Sunday, 28 March 2010

Privatisation: The Tories are at it again

Guest post from John Sharman, branch secretary at Lincolnshire UNISON and member of UNISONs Local Government Service Group Executive

Conservative-controlled Lincolnshire County Council is set to make a decision on the closure of eight Council homes for older people, in order to re-provide services through the private sector.

The authority got rid of most of its homes in 1992, leaving itself with just eight homes which have developed specialist services, such as reablement, support for older people with dementia, respite and intermediate care. All the homes are highly valued in their local communities, and the Council itself describes the quality of care provided by the staff as “second to none”.

In spite of this, Lincolnshire began consultation in November on plans to scrap all publicly-controlled residential care in the county. It clearly expected this to go through with the minimum of fuss, and on the original timetable all the decisions would be done and dusted by early March. But it hasn’t quite panned out that way.

UNISON has mounted a high profile campaign aimed at keeping the homes open and improving services within a public sector dimension. We’ve had good publicity in the local media, including coverage of a visit by Dave Prentis, who came up to Lincoln to meet activists and members from the homes. And there has been a public outcry, from service users, carers, and concerned members of the community.

The result is that the Council has been pushed onto the back foot. It’s had to send the mass of consultation responses for independent analysis, and the Executive decision was pushed back first to April then May, and now to 1 June. The branch is organising a billboard and leafleting campaign across the county, and Councillors can expect some company when they arrive at county offices on 1 June.

Our members in the homes are of course concerned about their jobs, but in every meeting their primary objective is to protect the standards and quality of care to older people in Lincolnshire. If the eight homes go, the Lincolnshire public will be at the complete mercy of those who seek a profit from the care of the elderly. The last public sector safety net will have gone.

For decades we’ve listened to Tory councillors justifying creeping privatisation by reference to the “mixed economy of care”. That phrase has now disappeared from their vocabulary. If their latest proposals are enacted there will be no mixed economy, just a private sector monopoly. The concept of consumer choice will be history.

That’s why UNISON will fight every inch of the way to keep these homes where they belong – under direct public control.

John Sharman
Lincolnshire UNISON

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